Friday, November 30, 2007


THIS HAPPY BREED.....Henry update.....
Henry`s back from the vets with a clean bill of health. However, my bank balance has suffered a severe setback.
Henry`s `consultation` with ace vet Dave Cocker, another injection for Henry`s hips and a load of pills for his arthritis has set me back another £121....the good news is that we don`t have to see Dave again until next March.
How come we dog lovers are always willing to fork out for vets fees, but we are full of guilt when we spend money on ourselves?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007




ANOTHER SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY...

It was the bleak midwinter of 1961. I had been on leave in the UK from the white hell of BFPO 16 in northern Germany and I was due back in Barker Barracks just outside Paderborn by no later than noon on the Saturday.

In those days, the journey for service personnel from the UK to the far outposts of the then West Germany was far from easy. I have vivid memories of getting to Harwich on the Thursday evening, ready to embark on the flat-bottomed troop ship that plied between Harwich and the Hook of Holland.

The sea crossing was an all night affair; fortunately I have always been a good sailor so despite the conditions aboard which naturally involved people who were anything but good sailors, I nevertheless managed a few hours sleep. Just as well, as the next leg of the journey involved, firstly, another few hours wait for the right train before it set off on its journey across Holland, then through the industrial heartland of Germany - Moenchen Gladbach, Dusseldorf, Wuppertal-Elberfeld, Dortmund, Unna, Hamm and other forgettable towns until we arrived at Soest (see map above.)

And there we stopped. By now, it was late Friday night and - applying the Law of Sod - the connecting train to Paderborn had gone....and there wouldn`t be another one until 6.30am. What to do to while away all those hours in the freezing drabness of that German night? The town seemed empty and quiet, but for one building which had a shining light. My colleague (Billy Ross from somewhere oop north) and I tried the door, which was securely shut. But after a few anxious minutes, someone appeared, showed us in, heard of our plight and proceeded to make us welcome, fed us and invited us to stay there through that long night until it was time for us to make our train connection.

At this time of the year, approaching Christmas, there are countless volunteers with their tins and boxes collecting for their charities and good causes. I don`t know about you, but I always feel a twinge of guilt if I avoid them, walk the other way, try to ignore their presence - after all, you can`t support them all, as much as you might like to.

But there is one charity I always give to; willingly, with a glad heart and with gratitude for the kindness shown to two weary, cold, fraught soldiers lost in a small town in Germany 46 years ago.
Yes, folks, I give you the Salvation Army.....for they were our salvation, given on that long night willingly, with a good heart and a kindness that has not been forgotten.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

MONEY WELL SPENT

This is Henry, our Golden Retriever. He`s the fourth retriever we`ve had, following in the pawsteps of Holly, Botham and Rupert. He`s had his problems over the years and now that he`s getting on for nine years old, regular visits to the vet are important to keep him going. (I know the feeling.)

So, tomorrow, we will make the journey to Newnham Court Veterinary Centre for Henry to have his regular three-monthly check up. He has always been looked after very well indeed by Dave Cocker, who has Goldies of his own, so he knows all there is to know about them.

A few years ago, we were on holiday at Newton Ferrers in Devon, when Henry really wasn`t very well at all - he lost weight quickly, couldn`t eat, couldn`t sleep properly and so we cut short the holiday and got him home to see Dave, who immediately diagnosed a pericardial effusion. This is a fairly rare condition, which seems to be contracted mainly by retrievers and involves a severe build-up of fluid around the heart. Nasty and dangerous.

Thanks to Dave, Henry survived and we hope and believe, now that the condition has not returned in over two years , that it will not arise again. But Henry also has arthritis and dodgy hips (sounds more like me with every minute) and is on pills and injections to help him cope.

Tomorrow`s bill will be over £100 (again!) and being a mean old sod I suppose I should moan about that. But, of course, dogs give loyalty, a warm welcome, companionship and trust; Henry is the reason I get to have a good walk every day and we get to explore the Kent countryside, whatever the weather, so it does me good. Tomorrow`s investment in keeping a good friend going for a while longer will indeed be money well spent. No complaints. Honest.





Sunday, November 25, 2007


MINNOWS CLASH IN VINTAGE ENCOUNTER

My father bought our first ever television in 1953. Crafty devil, my dad - convinced my mother that he wanted to buy it to watch the upcoming coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2 as he knew just how much she would enjoy watching it. The truth, I suspect, is that he really wanted to watch the Cup Final which that year was played out between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers.

And what a memorable final it turned out to be - the Matthews Final - when the late lamented wizard of dribble Sir Stanley Matthews finally won the honour that had eluded him in his long and distinguished career as he laid on the winning goal for Perry to secure a 4-3 victory, having come from 3-1 down against a spirited but depleted Bolton side. Here is Matthews hoisted aloft by his team-mates displaying the FA Cup after the game:-




Blackpool have never won anything since.


In 1976, Southampton won the FA Cup by beating Manchester United with a late goal from the late lamented Bobby Stokes. I was fortunate enough to be there to witness the greatest day in the club`s history. Here is Saints captain Peter Rodrigues with team-mates and the coveted trophy after the game:-



Saints have never won anything since.

On Saturday, Blackpool, having been promoted to the Championship from League One, made their first ever visit to St. Mary`s Stadium to play Southampton for the first time in 29 years. So it came as no real surprise that the game produced football of a standard anachronistically plucked from those bygone decades. Lots of honest endeavour; so little quality. No Stanley Matthews` on show, despite Saints` Nathan Dyer showing the occasional attempt to bamboozle Blackpool`s uncompromising full back.

In all honesty, Blackpool were robbed of at least a point, thanks to a combination of rueful finishing, bizarre refereeing and Saints` Jason Euell becoming their first player to miss a penalty at St. Mary`s. Saints won the game 1-0 thanks to a 34th minute goal from Stern John. (In a boredom relieving moment, I asked my neighbour why Stern John had been christened Stern; apparently it was because he was born in the back of a boat.)

It was truly the worst performance I have seen for years - such has been Southampton`s decline and for the first time ever, my perceptive colleagues and I trudged back to Town Quay feeling depressed and angry at what we had witnessed....and this despite winning the game; goodness knows how we might have felt had we lost.

(click to enlarge)

Two clubs which once won the glittering prizes have joined the ranks of the footballing minnows; Southampton`s prospects are grim as they continue to sink, but a resurgent Blackpool seem to be rising to the surface after all those years since they graced our first ever television set and I wish them well. They deserved better on Saturday.














RADIO GA-GA......

On the drive home last night, from Southampton`s unlikely 1-0 win over Blackpool (more on that story later) I switched the car radio on. Sometimes I listen to Radio Hampshire`s post-match programme which is improbably named `The Third Half.` Last night`s edition did not disappoint as a succession of callers vented their knowledgeable spleens with an assortment of opinions concerning events at St. Mary`s Stadium.

Fortunately, the signal from Radio Hampshire runs out of puff round about Winchester, at which point I start channel hopping in the hope of finding an agreeable station to keep me company on my long journey home to deepest Kent. I listened to Radio 4 for a while, tried Radios 1 and 2, but in the end opted for Radio Five Live, where there was a commentary on the Premier League game between Derby County and Chelsea, which Chelsea eventually won 2-0.

But what really intrigued me was the programme which followed the football commentary. It was `606` - a radio phone-in programme whereby people can ring in (0800 909 693 if you are tempted) to express their opinions on events at football matches which had taken place yesterday. It is hosted by a jovial chap, one Alan Green, who whilst being never short of an opinion is apparently never wrong when his opinion is challenged.

Anyway, people ring in, some send texts, some e-mail with their comments, all of which follow the same predictable pattern. "My team were wonderful today, Alan, so I`m just ringing in so you and your listener know that I am associated with a winning team and am therefore wonderful myself." Or- especially from the north-east - "Newcastle/Sunderland/Middlesbrough are rubbish, Alan, so I`m just ringing in so that you and your listener know that I`m nothing to do with them and therefore not associated with any kind of failure." And so on.....

It is truly Radio Ga-ga, inhabited by numbskulls who have nothing better to do than try to convince a deeply uninterested world in their harebrained opinions. To that extent, it was entertaining, but I was left wondering what compels people to expose themselves to public gaze when they would be better advised to keep their opinions to themselves. Still, it keeps Alan Green going, I suppose, and we should all be thankful for that. Possibly.

When `606` had come to an end, it seemed to coincide with my leaving the video game which the M25 has become; somehow, it symbolised leaving two sets of madness at the same time and I`m not at all sure which of the two I was more happy to bid goodnight.

Radio, like football and driving, ain`t what it used to be....at least on Five Live.






Thursday, November 22, 2007


INEVITABLE.......

Good word inevitable - there`s something inevitable about it. And there was a genuine inevitability about last night`s events at Wemblerley.

A couple of days ago, I had lunch with another couple of old codgers I used to work with. Being a bloke thing, whilst the conversation touched on an eclectic range of subjects, football was - inevitably - among the topics discussed.

I confessed to being with Paul Parker, whose contention that it would be a good thing for English football for us to lose out to Croatia, as that would be the catalyst for something to be done. Now, most people thought Parker`s remarks to be unfortunate, bad for morale in advance of such an important game, unpatriotic even and I sensed that my lunchmates shared that view.

But, of course, Parker was right. Had we limped through the qualification, it`s likely that nothing would change in advance of next year`s Euro finals - same manager, same backroom staff, same core players, same tactics, same indecision, same outcome; we might well have limped our way home early in the competition, the inevitable merely delayed. As it is, the inglorious failure of last evening has given English football yet another chance to redeem itself. But there are two questions to address.

The first is, of course, whether that chance will be taken.....and with the FA Board meeting going on at the moment consisting of five `professional game` representatives and five from the `amateur` ranks, it`s unlikely that those turkeys will find themselves voting for Christmas, relying instead on the departure of MacLaren, El Tel, et al and the appointment of yet another unfortunate to disguise the fact that the whole structure of the game in this country is archaic, self-serving, out of time, wallowing in cash but bereft of ideas, courage, vision and a sense of responsibility to the nation which invented the beautiful game in another age.

Which leads to the second question - can anything - anything at all - really be done to arrest the inevitability of history`s recurring repetition? International football teams are not only a reflection of their managers but also a reflection of the culture and the state of the nation at any particular time. A century ago, this country was the power in the world. Like all great `civilisations` before us, there has been a pattern of rise and fall....and our decline as a nation has been yet another inevitability. I believe it to be the case that, whilst we may have high hopes and expectations of our football team, all the time they represent a fractured, fragmented `society` then they have no hope of success. It`s just the way it is - history repeating itself. Inevitably.

We don`t win wars any more, we don`t lead the world any more, we don`t have the high moral values, the social cohesion or the pride and passion anymore, so why should we expect those qualities to be there in the vicarious and parallel universe of football?

Scotland lost out last week - they, like England, came third in their group - and were given a standing ovation for their glorious failure. The reason? Pride and passion shone through on the Hampden pitch and off it. What we saw last night was England being outfought, out-thought and outskilled which led to the inevitable result and a nation despairing of its collective failure....but quite incapable of doing very much about it. Seems to me it`s inevitable.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


A CHANCE TO SHARE

You know how it is - late at night - can`t be bothered to move and go up to bed - you start channel hopping on tv, more in hope than expectation. Happened to me the other evening, when I chanced across S4C, the Welsh language channel; not something I would dwell on for too long, but they were showing an hour long tribute to one of Wales` greatest heroes.

Ray Gravell died far too young a couple of weeks ago, whilst he was in Spain. Now, those of you who are rugby fans will know this and know all about Grav - his heroics on the rugby pitch, his devotion to and pride in Llanelli Rugby Club, where he was President, his fierce patriotism, his enthusiastic commentaries on rugby matches for S4C and even his reputation as an actor. Why, he even lived in the street they named after him (Heol Ray Gravell) in his home village of Mynydd-y-garreg, such was the affection in which he was held.

S4C`s tribute thankfully had subtitles for those like me who, whilst fascinated by the intonation and the timbre of the Welsh language, have no idea what`s being said and so I was able to follow the obituary, re-runs of Grav`s part in the greatest period of Welsh rugby and the glowing, heartfelt and utterly genuine tributes from rugby legends from all over the world.




There is no space here to list all of Grav`s achievements - far too many for that. But it is worth saying that he was part of the Llanelli team, captained by Delme Thomas, that defeated the All Blacks in 1972; that he played 23 times for his country and toured with the British Lions. But there was so much more to him than merely one of the greatest centres the game has ever seen and a full, masterful, almost lyrical appreciation can be found at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=A1YourView&xml=/sport/2007/11/16/srgall116.xml

Now, I`ve never played rugby - just enjoyed watching it - and I`m certainly not Welsh. However, thanks to S4C and my late-night indolence,I discovered that it might be no bad thing to be Welsh after all, for they seem to have a passion, a unity and a pride which all the cynicism, multi-culturalism and fragmentation of our English co-called `society`seems to be losing.



So, my thanks to S4C for a memorable tribute to a remarkable man....and the chance to share in the pride and passion felt for the man and his country. Nos da, Grav.


















Monday, November 19, 2007






JUST LIKE WAITING FOR DEMOB.....


One of the most important things to do when called up for National Service was to produce a demob chart. There were various `templates` for doing this but they all had the same objective, which was simply to provide a square for each and every day which would be crossed out as the 731 days of conscription reduced. (My National Service lasted an extra day because of a leap year.)

I have been impressed with the techno-wizardry of fellow bloggers who have downloaded graphics which show a continual countdown to one of their special events. For example, my good friend Wurzel (see link below to Wurzel`s Thoughts blog) has a countdown going on to his wedding next year.

Not having the techknowhow to produce one myself, I`m afraid you must take my word for it that there are `only` 32 days to an event I am looking forward to with much enthusiasm. Yes, folks, the shortest day on 21st December will mean that winter`s corner has been turned and with each subsequent day the light will begin returning - slowly, almost imperceptably, but returning nonetheless.

Towards the end of my National Service I had mixed feelings about leaving. I had made good friends with whom I am still in touch after more than 40 years so, whilst keen to escape the clutches of the military, I approached the final day with some reluctance as my demob chart entered its final straight....but I have no mixed feelings at all about wanting the shortest day to arrive and be gone. 32 days to go......and counting.

Friday, November 16, 2007


A VERY ANNOYING PROSPECT

I thought Bill Oddie was annoying, the way he tries to be funny and clever but fails dismally and all the while interrupts the lovely Kate as she explains the intricacies of animal behaviour to a receptive audience. But Oddie is not half as annoying as the annual ritual which is BBC`s Children in Need event.

Now folks, don`t get me wrong. I have nothing at all against charities - and children`s ones in particular - and regular readers of these pages will know that I give freely of my time, resources and energy to a local charity here with which I have been associated for some years.

But the prospect of sitting through hour upon hour of so-called `celebs` doing things they really shouldn`t be doing is truly cringeworthy. As is the constant harranguing from Wogan about parting with cash. If I want to give to worthy causes, I will do so, but I don`t need harebrained, overpaid, overhyped poseurs bawling at me all evening.

So, I think I`ll watch the football instead. England are playing, I think. Oh...hang on a minute, I thought I wanted to get away from harebrained, overpaid, overhyped poseurs.
Maybe I`ll just take the dog for a walk and have an early night. Or maybe, on some yet to be discovered obscure tv channel, they show things like Rant Club or Grumpy World....now that would be worth watching.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007




HO HO HO.....SORTED !!

Well, that wasn`t as bad as I thought, the Bluewater experience. Managed to complete the missions set for me and still had time for a bookshop browse. Waterstones were advertising the fact that Michael Winner was due to turn up sometime soon to sign books. Fair enough, but it reminded me that last year they were doing a book signing session with Michael Barrymore.

I could hardly believe that a small queue had assembled before the appointed hour whilst, inside the shop, Barrymore was preparing himself for the onslaught by his gaggle of admirers. I`m sure it must have constituted the saddest queue in the entire annals of book signing sessions.

But I digress, dear reader. Problem always is, what to buy Mrs. Snopper for Christmas...something useful yet thoughtful; something practical yet attractive; something surprising and unexpected. But the answer came to me today as I wandered the aisles of our local Tesco and discovered that they do gift vouchers! Tesco gift vouchers....of course, the perfect solution. They seem to fit all the criteria. They`re attractive in a beguilingly seductive colour, viz:-



It will certainly come as a surprise - an unexpectedly generous gift to mark the season of goodwill; she will see just how much thought will have gone into my choice of gift; but above all it will be the practicality that will shine through. It will mean that, when Mrs. Snopper gets to the checkout, she will have £20 knocked off the grocery bill. As they say:-



Sorted !!


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

......SO WE MIGHT AS WELL.

Off to the Bluwater Shopping Thingy today, to comply with EEC Directive 132/447/EU/27-eei. and the recently published Christmas Shopping by the End of November Regulations, 2007.

Mrs. Snopper has a list - she is welcome to work her way through it whilst I examine Waterstone`s bookshop and assorted coffee houses. After all, being a bloke, I don`t really `do` shopping....or Christmas....and especially the Bluewater Shopping Thingy, which is too depressing at the best of times, being all concrete, a bit `up-market` and supposedly `nice.`

I am supposed to be preparing a list of things I want for Christmas, but the problem is I am not a `wanter` - more a `needer` - which means that I really only buy things I need when I need them. Even then, it tends to be clothes and in that regard, my strategy is that if it doesn`t say `Blue Harbour` then I don`t buy it.

Ah, well....here we go:-




(Bluewater Shopping Thingy)


In truth, the best thing about Christmas is January....and it really can`t come quickly enough.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Watched Match of the Day last night. There were only three Premiership games on, because of midweek European clashes. But in the three games that were shown, no less than seven players appeared who, until a season or so ago, wore the red and white of Southampton.

In the Liverpool v Fulham game, Antti Niemi and Chris Baird were playing for Fulham, whilst Peter Crouch appeared for Liverpool. Sunderland`s 1-1 draw with Newcastle saw Kenwyne Jones and Danny Higginbotham playing for the Mackems, whilst Matthew Oakley was captaining Derby in a 5-0 drubbing by West Ham. Later today, doubtless Theo Walcott will appear for Arsenal, Gareth Bale for Tottenham and I`m sure one or two more will pop up in other fixtures.


Speaking of drubbings, whilst I mourned the departure of these erstwhile Saints players, my current heroes were on ther wrong end of a 5-0 drubbing of their own - away to the Owls of Sheffield Wednesday. They now have the worst defensive record in the whole of the Football League and whilst, until recently, this has somewhat been countered by a prolific scoring record, now even the goals have dried up. Any fanciful notions of reaching the play-offs (?plays-off?) again and gaining promotion back to the Premiership have, thankfully, been dispelled.

This is what the local Southampton paper made of yesterday`s events:-


(click to enlarge...if you must)


Now, Southampton FC were never truly mighty....but we have truly fallen from grace. It`s not so much the losing I mind too much - it`s the humiliation that troubles my otherwise peaceful Sunday, so I would be grateful for a little understanding. Unless you come from Portsmouth, of course. I guess the whole thing serves me right for daring to engage in mild criticism of `Sir` Alex and his teacups.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

BOXING DAY BONUS......

You know the feeling - Christmas Day has come and gone, Boxing Day is here - you have eaten too much again and all you want to do is slump in front of the tv, without really bothering about what might be on.

Some 25 years ago, I was doing just that and a film came on BBC2. `International Velvet` starred Christopher Plummer, Anthony Hopkins, Nanette Newman and a young Tatum O`Neil. It was all about an American orphan whose parents had been killed in a car crash in the States and who had come over to live with her aunt, who just happened to have won an Olympic horse-riding event in her youth. Familiar? It might be if you had seen the original National Velvet, which starred an even younger Elizabeth Taylor.



In truth, the film was distinctly average so It wasn`t the story or the acting that caught my attention - it was the scenery of the location in which the film was made. All rolling hills, lovely beaches, little offshore islands, snug villages. So when the credits came up at the end, I was very interested to see where the film had been made. And there, following the usual suspects of best boy, key grip, dolly grip, negative cutter and all the rest, the location of the Flete Estate, Mothecombe, Devon, was revealed.

(click to enlarge)
The following summer, we were on holiday in Paignton and took the opportunity to wend our way through the twisting, narrow lanes of the South Hams until we found Mothecombe. And what a find - if anything, better than in the film. We parked in a field next to the old school, walked down past the village - well, hamlet really - and down to the estuary of the River Erme, deep into the Flete Estate. The landowners have held both sides of the estaury and the surrounding countryside for generations and their benign custody of the area has meant that no `development` has taken place and so the estuary is unspoiled and much as it was decades ago.

We discovered that the Estate let out a number of cottages for holidays and so, sparing no expense, we stayed at Nepeans Cottage - an old gamekeeper`s lodge - for a number of years until the letting fees became prohibitive.

Since those days, I have looked out for films which have been made on the Flete Estate. Among others there have been episodes of `A Horseman Riding By,` `Hornblower,` `Jonathan Creek` and perhaps most notably in recent years `Sense and Sensibility,` directed by Ang Lee. And the nice thing is that, although it is some years since we last stayed on the Estate, they still send us newsletters which include reports of filming in the area.

(click to enlarge)

If you fancy it and can afford it, more details about holidays in this very special place, where the sound of silence is deafening, the scenery quite breathtaking and where the days drift seamlessly into one another, can be found at http://go.gomango.co.uk/fleteestate/innersite/?photogallery.cfm~mainframe

As for me, I`ll be slumping into my chair again this Boxing Day hoping for another cinematic bonus to see where I might go next year
Update : A curious thing, coincidence.....yesterday `International Velvet` was shown twice on TCM. For a moment I thought it was Boxing Day come early.


HOW MANY MORE TIMES?......

.....do we have to put up with the crass ineptitude of the Football Association?

It`s reported today that `Sir` Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, will not be charged by the FA for suggesting that referee Howard Webb `favoured` Arsenal in last week`s 2-2 draw between the two teams.

Disciplinary chiefs at the FA have been studying Ferguson`s remarks after calling for a transcript of the interview that appeared on United`s in-house TV station MUTV. But it appears that FA officials decided that there was not enough evidence to charge Ferguson as it could not be proved that he was suggesting that the referee was deliberately biased towards Arsenal. I wonder what Howard Webb makes of that.

I suggest it is yet another example of the FA`s reluctance to take any sort of action against this dinosaur manager, for fear of reprisals from Manchester United. Time and again, Ferguson is allowed to get away with behaviour which would not be out of place in a Govan shipyard. He seems to have opinions about anything, everything and anyone connected with the football world, all delivered in a barely intelligible caledonian mutter; perhaps the most amusing being his recent criticism of Avram Grant, Glenn Roeder and Gareth Southgate for not having the necessary EUFA coaching qualification to manage in the Premiership. This from a man who himself has no such qualification.


I look forward to the day when Ferguson retires and then perhaps we can have BBC interviews with a United manager, since Ferguson has constantly flaunted yet more FA regulations by refusing interviews since the BBC exposed the antics of Feguson`s then agent son. Football teams are a reflection of their managers and, in this case, it is small wonder that the rest of the football world look upon Manchester United as arrogant, contemptuous and a law unto themselves. It seems that Ferguson and Manchester United think they can run English football....and the FA do little to suggest otherwise.

Thursday, November 08, 2007



A BROKEN RECORD....

Well, two records really. On Saturday, when Saints FC lost to Charlton`s last gasp winner, it had been 31 games since Saints failed to score. On Tuesday evening, a drab 0-0 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers saw another record go. This was the first time in 33 games that Saints had been involved in a scoreless draw....and this against a team we had beaten 6-0 away last season. The natives in S014 are becoming increasingly restless, especially as manager George Burley declared himself `satisfied` with a rare clean sheet. He`s easily pleased!

I KNOW THE FEELING....

......So, Lewis Hamilton is off to live in Switzerland as he`s fed up with people asking for his autograph at petrol stations. Good idea, Lewis - think I`ll join you; just one difference between us - I`m thinking of going so I can avoid paying some of the taxes I`m stuck with. After all, each time I fill up at Tesco`s nobody ever asks me for my autograph.

`Bye then, Lewis - see you at the Sports Personality of the Year Awards. Possibly.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


AN EARLY LESSON.......
A couple of weeks ago, during the school half-term holiday, my eldest son went with his family for a short break and visited parts of Dorset, where I was born.

It`s a lovely part of the world - quiet, peaceful, steeped in history and the setting, of course, for most of the Thomas Hardy novels, one of my favourites being `The Return of the Native,` with its atmospheric description of the landscape and the people who lived there in that faraway time.

It`s funny how just a casual remark can bring back strong memories of things that happened years ago. My son just happened to mention that they had visited the area around Wool, Bovington and that part of Hardy`s Egdon Heath well known to Tess and Angel Clare, for it was at Wool (Wellbridge ) Manor that they spent their wedding night.
When I was very young - only about two or three - my father was away in the army playing his part in World War 2 and my mother and I lived on Portland. We used to visit friends who lived near Bovington - Giddy Green, I think the hamlet was called. I was literally finding my feet in the world and so my mother used to take me for walks onto the heathland, where even today there are still miles of unspoilt paths across the heather clad countryside.

One day, in the height of summer, we were walking along when, suddenly, my mother started to run away from me. Not just any old run, but really fast - faster than she ever ran before or after, I suspect. There was panic in the air - I could detect it in her sudden rush - and so I naturally followed as quickly as I could , for what seemed a long way but in reality was probably no more than a few yards. When I caught up with her, she picked me up, held me close and just breathed, "Snake" in my ear.


(Egdon Heath - click to enlarge)

From that day to this, I have inherited my mother`s absolute fear of snakes - small wonder, I suppose. I cannot even bear to watch snakes on tv or go into the reptile house at the zoo. Some years back, we took our grandaughters(my eldest son`s girls) to Howletts Zoo near Canterbury....and I remember insisting on staying outside while my wife took the girls into the reptile house there. If they inherit my dread of snakes, I hope they will understand where it all started, that sometimes discretion is truly the better part of valour and that it`s ok to run away now and again.

Sunday, November 04, 2007




I COULD SCREAM TOO....
Edvard Munch`s iconic image could well have captured my mood as I wandered back along Southampton`s Central Bridge late yesterday afternoon following Saints` 1-0 home defeat to Charlton Athletic.

You see, I don`t mind the fact that we lost even despite Charlton being reduced to playing with 10 men for the last hour of the game. I don`t mind the fact that their winner came deep into added time at the end of the game - I`m used to that kind of thing. I begrudge Charlton nothing. They deserved their victory. Good luck to them.

But two things get to me. The first is the decline and fall Saints have suffered in the last few years, for it was just four years ago almost to the day that we beat Manchester United 1-0 with a late header from James Beattie to go fourth in the Premiership. Since then, there has been relegation, financial worries, boardroom shenanagins, players sold...now the rumour of administration and the threat of more players going in the January sales. We have a manager who has raised beweilderment to an art form thanks to his eccentric team selections, tactics and bizarre substitutions.

Small wonder we are languishing in the comfort zone of mid-table obscurity with little prospect of recovery.

The second thing that gets to me is that - in my street - there are Charlton fans opposite, another family down the road whose son actually plays for their Reserves and I get on very well with all of them. In a while, I will be having lunch with one of my very best friends who has recently declared his fanship to Charlton Athletic and I know....I just know.... that although these good friends may say very little as a result of yesterday`s events, they will inwardly be punching the air and wallowing in their understated bragging rights.

I would do the same if I were them, wander around with a contented glow inside....sadly, I`m a Saints fan. Have been since my Dad first took me to The Dell in 1947 - 60 years ago - you don`t choose your club to support, the club chooses you. So although I could scream at the disappointment of yesterday, I won`t bother, as there`s no point. Que sera, sera indeed.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


HALLOWEEN GOODY PLOY WORKS A TREAT......

This could equally be called `One down - two to go` as Halloween has finally disappeared into the downcast autumn sunset. The next two occasions to see the back of are Bonfire Night and Christmas, with all the rampant commercialism and total disregard for their original meaning that surrounds them. But more on those twin threats to what remains of my sanity later. Let`s first have a word about Halloween.

As a boy, growing up in more austere times in a small community I don`t ever remember `doing` Halloween - Bonfire Night, yes and Christmas of course...but never Halloween. I suspect it has grown over the years as a result of the infiltration of American `culture` (I use the word advisedly) and the opportunity it presents for the chancers of this world to make a quick buck on the back of something by which children can put pressure on parents.

In chez Snopper, ever fearful of reprisals unless I conform with what the world laughingly expects of me, Mrs. Snopper purchased a very large bag of assorted sweets and chocolate bars and laid them out most invitingly in a basket, which `trick or treaters` were invited to dip into instead of keying my car or attaching stink bombs to our front door. Seemed like a good ploy.


We had only two visits last evening - my local reputation for raising grumpiness to an art form is clearly spreading. I have no proof but I suspect they were from the same gang coming around for another dip into Mrs. Snopper`s goody basket. I managed to confuse one gang who, when shouting `trick or treat` in my ear, were taken aback at my reply, "I`ll have the treat, please."

But it`s an ill wind that blows no good and the upshot is that the goody basket is still crammed with goodies, which we will enjoy munching our way through in the next few days. A satisfactory conclusion to a deeply unsatisfactory event.